Crossing the Jordan River

Joshua 1:1-3, 5. After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses…No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.”

These verses begin the book of Joshua and also a new segment in Scripture (the Pentateuch is over and the history books begin). It begins a new ministry for Joshua and it begins a new stage for the journey of the people of Israel. The newness of the moment is juxtaposed against the closing of the previous. 

Moses is dead.

A whole generation of Israelites who saw God do amazing things as they left Egypt is dead.

That is a lot to think about as this moment dawns of Joshua.

But the moment arrives with the clear, distinct, and amazing voice of the covenant-keeping God who rules the universe. “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses…No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” The past is done and written in the annals of the LORD. The next step begins with the Presence of the LORD, a command from the King of Israel, a purpose into which Joshua will direct all his energy, and a promise that will sustain the battle.

The Presence:  I will be with you.

The Command:  Arise, go!

The Purpose:  Into the land that I am giving them…

The Promise:  Every place you tread I will give you.

What Jordan River are you facing? What closure of history past rings in your thoughts? What lies ahead? For many of us, these are daunting questions. There are too many unknowns. There are too many things to work through. There are too many obstacles that appear before our eyes. 

Take heart! The Presence of God is with you (Matthew 28:20). You know to what He is calling you (Ephesians 2:4-10). You know your purpose (Ephesians 3:14-21, Philippians 3:10). You know His promise (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

Now is the time to take Him at His word. Now is the time to stand firm in faith. Now is the time to join obedience to that faith. Now is the time for you to cross the Jordan River. 

Let’s do it together! 

Thoughts from my Prayer Walk

Prayer Time Thoughts:

Here are some brief thoughts from my prayer walk this morning. I’ll put the bullet points and then explain below:

  1. Prayer is the work
  2. Urgency follows a vibrant prayer life
  3. Saturating our rhythm with the Gospel
  4. Greater filling of the Holy Spirit in power and godliness
  5. God-sightings are essential for transforming our community
  1. We would all agree that prayer is foundational to the ministry. However, as time moves forward, I believe that God is calling His people deeper into the prayer life. Discernment of God at work comes through prayer. Discernment into lives comes through prayer. Chains are broken in prayer. Light overcomes because of prayer. Amount of prayers and numbers of people praying is not what I am talking about. What I am talking about is God’s people seeking God’s face for the advancement of God’s Kingdom in one heart, as the primary responsibility and service of God’s people. If we are to see new communities of Christ-followers established, if we are to see disciples made and multiplied, if we are to see the lost saved, then we are to be people who are consumed by prayer. I need to be consumed by prayer, to sit with Jesus in the heavenly places and join Him as He intercedes. We all need to be consumed. This cannot be a back-burner type ministry.
  2. Change happens when there is a sense of urgency. Urgency has been defined as living rightly according to God’s timeline. This means that we take advantage of every moment to make that moment a Kingdom moment, a Jesus honoring, Gospel sharing and transforming moment. Are we just waiting around for the trumpet to sound? Are we redeeming the time so that each moment pushes back the darkness, shines the Light, and draws others to Jesus? Urgency causes change when people see a preferred future and then do whatever they can to orient on the preferred future. Our preferred future is one where Jesus reigns, all peoples are worshipping Him, Satan is crushed under foot, captives are freed, relationships are redeemed and reconciled. Our preferred future is a church full of godly, Christ-like children who are full of the Holy Spirit, thriving, growing, multiplying out of an overflowing expression of worship and thanksgiving. What would it look like to live out a sense of urgency to orient on what God has in store for us and His name?
  3. Whatever your moment, that is a perfect moment for the Gospel. Whatever situation you are in, that is a perfect moment for the Gospel. You embody the Gospel. You are full of His Spirit. You have the shoes fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace. So, whatever situation you find yourself in, you bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ your Lord. School, work, chores, family…whoever situation, what does God want to show of the Gospel through you and I? How might our rhythms advance the Kingdom if we saturated them with the Gospel?
  4. Oh, come to the altar! Let the Spirit who is a consuming Fire engulf you and I more and more! Jump in, all in, to walking with and by the Holy Spirit.
  5. Share what you see God doing, even if it is small. Share widely! We need to see more of God at work. Look for Him, join Him, celebrate Him at work. What if we became a people who shared all the time what they see of God at work? To see Him is to love Him. To see Him transforms us and those around Him. When He answers prayer, share! When He speaks, share!, When He comforts, share! When He shows you something of what He is doing, share! Sharing God at work, God-sightings, spurs on prayer, urgency, saturating our rhythm and passion to walk more by the Spirit. What if we would become a community of Christ-followers who couldn’t et enough of sharing God-sightings and of listening to others share God-sightings? What is your story about God at work in you and through you? With whom can you share your story?

Catch the Little Foxes that Destroy

Song of Songs 2:15

“Catch us the foxes,

the little foxes,

that ruin the vineyards—

for our vineyards are in blossom.”

In the Song of Songs, the Bible presents before us a story of two people in relationship. There are many ways of viewing this book of the Bible, which we won’t go into. What I want to share with you today is taken from chapter 2:15. Some scholars say this verse is an enigma because of the voicing change that occurs in the middle of the invitation by the “Bride.” Also, there are some different ways of translating some of the words that might impact the meaning. However we will follow the NRSV translation and briefly look at the verse.

The “Bride” invites the “Groom” to draw close to her. The two are growing in their love for one another and the seeds of intimacy have sprouted and are finally flowering. Yet, before they move forward, little things arise that are at work to destroy the blossoms of their love. We don’t know exactly what they are but the tenderness, the newness, and the beauty of their flowering relationship is under attack. It requires decisive action.

If we take this metaphorically and apply this to our own lives we are faced with this question:

What are the little things in your life that are attacking the intimacy with Jesus that you are beginning to experience?

We all have them. They work behind the scenes to hinder growth and fruitfulness. They hinder the community of God from progressing as one in the corporate relationship with and surrender to Jesus. They are the little things that we don’t spend time on or notice or think about that always seem to undermine our passion and desire for intimacy with Jesus.

What are yours?

What are mine?

What about in our community of Christ-followers?

As love blossoms in us and in our community that takes us deeper in our walk with Jesus, we must begin to take notice of the “foxes” that try to destroy this. As we learn to walk more in the fullness of Jesus, we have to be more vigilant to catch these “foxes” that want to destroy us and we must destroy them. We, individually, need to take time to discover the “foxes” that plague us, in our personal walk with Jesus, before we talk about or engage the “foxes” that we think plague others in our community.

Practical Steps:

—Put on the full armor of God and take your stand

—Take a quiet moment today and pray Psalm 139:23-24

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

—If and when God reveals something to you about the “destroying foxes” in your own life, confess them as wrong, repent of them, renounce them and surrender to Jesus asking for a filling of the Holy Spirit in those areas.

—Ask God to help you understand how these “foxes” got into your life and what their root is. The more you understand how and why you do something, the more you can surrender it, find freedom and fullness of the Holy Spirit in that area of your life.

—Ask God to show you throughout the day when those foxes want to come back and to help you remain vigilant in your surrender and commitment to not let those “foxes” into the garden.

—Share with a trusted prayer partner what foxes you have and ask them to pray for you that you’d remain lovingly faithful in surrender to Jesus.

Allowing Jesus to offend you

Jesus says in John 6:61-62, “But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?’”

Everything in 2022 causes offense, so it seems. People generally do not like being offended. People generally like to have others agree with them, at least to their face. We have become a people, it seems, who wear their offense on their sleeve, who hold offenses so close to their hearts.

And then the words of Jesus, “Do you take offense at this?” Jesus says that He is God’s Living Bread offered to the word and that for one to have eternal life, one must eat this Bread (John 6:53). He continues and says that if the words offend and cause the disciples to want to leave, how much more offended will they be when God actually proves this to be true by exalting Jesus (John 6:62). 

We need to learn to let Jesus offend us. We need to learn to let Jesus speak whatever the Father tells Him to speak to us so that we are called into account. We must be called into account so that we learn to recognize what areas of our hearts disbelieve. Jesus must offend us so that we realize what that we at times search for other bread to satisfy us. Offense, says Jesus, is Spirit-filled and life-giving when it comes from His mouth (John 6:63). When Jesus says offensive things to us about our lives, or about what we think is true, we need to pause, listen, accept, and realign. Jesus offends us to reshape us into children who worship, believe, follow in Spirit and in truth (John 4:21-26). 

Practical Steps:

  1. Each morning this week, as you practice silence as a discipline, ask Jesus to sift your heart (Psalm 139:23-24). Allow Jesus to share with you His Spirit-filled words of truth.
  2. Journal what He shares with you. Ask Him to clarify how you need to accept, believe, and realign in the areas He has revealed to you.
  3. Share with someone that you trust and who prays for you how Jesus has offended you. Share with them how it caused you accept His word, believe it, and realign your heart with Him.
  4. Ask them to pray a blessing over you so that God would seal that truth in your heart.

Barriers to being in God’s Presence

We would all say, in theory, that we love God’s voice. We love when God illuminates Scripture to us and we discover something new about who God is and what He has done. We love when we are encouraged and when we experience God’s love and presence. We love it when God gives clarity to a situation or points us in a direction. Yet, there are times when we struggle with the concept of being in God’s presence. I would like to list out a couple of barriers.

Theological: What do I believe to be true of God?

Experiential: What do I believe to be possible for God to do in, around and through me?

Scriptural: What do I believe Scripture says on this issue?

Relational: What do I believe in my relationship with God?

Desire: What do I really want?

How we answer these questions will ultimately determine how we engage the presence of God. It will reveal our values and how we live out those values and influence our spiritual formation. If one struggles with the concept of the goodness of God, one might be hesitant to enter into His presence because one wouldn’t be certain that God would not hurt or disappoint. If one has never experienced God at work in their lives, one might be hesitant to enter into His presence because one wouldn’t be certain that God’s presence changes anything in our lives. Sometimes fear of what God would say to us or what we think God would feel about us hampers our desire to enter into His presence. This might come from a wrong belief in the efficacy of Jesus’ atoning death and victorious resurrection. Does Jesus’ work actually change completely how God perceives me, accepts me, and feels about me? Or, it might come from an experience we had where someone we thought we knew or trusted ended up hurting or rejecting us.

How we view God will directly impact how we come to Him. Because of our continuing need to be changed into the image of Jesus, we all have barriers that need to be broken. One of the ways we discover what barriers we have to savoring the richness of the presence of God is by approaching Him. When one approaches the throne of God, one should take note of what one is feeling and thinking, and what is going on in one’s body. If one decides to approach God and begins to sense a hesitancy, then that person should stop at that moment to journal why they are experiencing hesitation. Or, if one is feeling anxious, timid, or whatever else, then one should journal that experience. Ask God to reveal why that feeling or though is present. Ask God to reveal the corresponding truth about God in Scripture that needs to be embraced, believed and accepted as foundational.

Practical Steps:

  • Read 2 Corinthians 10:4-5; John 10:14-15
  • What sticks out to you about these passages about God’s voice? What sticks out to you about what you believe, experience, desire for the Christian walk? Are there known areas in your life that you know you need to realign to the truth of who God is and what He has done?
  • Spend time today going to God in prayer. Take time to wait in silence to listen for God’s voice. Wait upon God as you ask Him to let you know His presence. Take notice of what you are feeling and thinking.
  • Journal what you feel and think as you wait for God to speak to you. Ask God to help you understand why you think and feel that way. Ask God to show you deeper truths about who He is.
  • As God speaks to you and reveals to you who He is through Scripture, journal your response of faith in God. Take those truths and tell God how you will align what you think and believe about Him to flow from His truth in Scripture.

Sunday Sermon Supplemental Reading and Homework

Fullness of Jesus:  the Spirit-filled life
  • Psalm 42:1-2, 5 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
  • Psalm 63:1-8 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
  • Psalm 27:7-8, 13-14 Hear my voice when I call, LORD; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face! ” Your face, LORD, I will seek. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
  • Psalm 34:8  Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
  • Memory Verse:  Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.
  • Training: 
    • Fasting:  for the purpose of hungering
      • Choose how and for how long
      • When you feel hungry or thirst, ask the Holy Spirit to increase your hunger and thirst for God
      • Journal your experience of fasting when you are done fasting
    • Silence:  for the purpose of experience His love and surrendering to Him
      • Recognize His Preeminence
      • Know and experience His love
      • Be consciously aware of His full, active and joyful Presence
      • Journal your experience of silence at the end of the day
    • Meditation:  for the purpose of soaking in His Word
      • Ask God to help you choose a verse about who He is or His character
      • As you fast and are in silence, let that verse fill your mind
      • Write it down and at regular intervals in the day, read the verse without commentary. Let the Holy Spirit speak when He wants to speak
      • At the end of the day, journal what the Holy Spirit taught you.

Waiting in silence is difficult.

We want to join God in His ministry and so we spend time trying to listen into the conversation He is having. We turn off the distractions. We get comfortable in our chair or we take a walk outside. And we wait in silence. We wait in expectation. We hear the clock ticking or the trucks driving by. The buzzing of flies or the chirping of birds form an interesting backdrop to what we long to be a holy and an intimate moment. So we continue waiting. And we wait. And we wait some more. Participating in the ministry of Jesus involves being at His disposition. It is, in part, a realization that His love language is time spent with us and Him. The silence of waiting is a part of the ministry of intercession. The silence of waiting is an act of surrender and of love. It is an act of surrender because as we join Jesus in His ministry, we understand that His prayer is more important than our prayer. His will for those for whom He intercedes is of far greater value than our will or desire for those for whom we intercede. So, true intercession requires silent, humble, loving waiting in surrender for Jesus to share with us His heart and thoughts. It is an act of love because the experience of waiting on Jesus is not a duty to be accomplished. Rather, it is an experience of being in the presence of one who is infinitely greater than us yet has, as the same time, invited us to be in His presence. Waiting for Jesus to share with us His thoughts and heart and to lead us in prayer is an act that begins with enjoying being with Him. To sit with Him in the heavenly places knowing Him and being known by Him is critical to waiting. We wait on Him because we love being with Him in conversation or in silence. We are still and silent because the present moment needs more being and enjoying then it needs our talking. The urgency or passion of our desires will never top God’s. Knowing this, we can find freedom to allow the urgency to surrender to the timeline of God’s goodness and control. In enjoying the moment, we will find a deeper level of passion through meeting and being consumed by His heart. We love others best by loving Jesus and His timeline most. We give Jesus preeminence in the conversation because of His rule and grandeur. We also wait on Him because we love the gift of His presence. When He bids us to speak, we will pour out all our heart to Him. When He asks us to listen, we wait for every word. When He says to watch, we keep our eyes peeled on His every move. Intercession begins with savoring. It begins with being awestruck by God’s glorious face. Intercession is maintained and we persevere because we have found what we have always sought and we are absolutely convinced that when others discover what God revealed to us, they will want to join us in the joyful fullness of His presence. They will want to join us in the ministry of Jesus, just as He has called us into His ministry. So we wait…and we love every moment of it. Practical Steps:

  1. Take a Bible passage that speaks to one of the characteristics of God and as you wait for Him to lead you into intercession, think deeply about what that passage says about God. Trust God to bring you to that passage and trust that God will illuminate to you who He is in that passage. Allow that Bible verse to fill your mind and heart.
  2. Ask God to help you love Him and to love that particular aspect of God’s character as you wait for Him. Don’t talk too much, just a quick ask in faith so that you can let that aspect of God’s character fill your heart and mind.
  3. Be content to dwell on that characteristic/Bible verse knowing that God will lead you into intercession at the right time.
  4. When God puts a person or situation in your mind as you wait on Him, ask Him to give you the words He wants you speak. Don’t be surprised if you find that the Bible verse/characteristic of God that He lead you to and in which you have been soaking forms the basis of what He wants you to pray about.
  5. Rest…wait…listen…respond….rest…wait…listen…respond…and ENJOY!

What is Effective Prayer

I am sure you have heard these statements before:   “Prayer works.” Or “I need more prayers.” Or “Sending up prayers.” I want to talk today about an aspect of how we view the prayer life and efficacy in prayer.

Is prayer effective when we have the answer to our prayer? God tells us “Yes” or “No” or “Wait.” Is prayer effective when we have the result of prayer? God heals after we have prayed. God provides when we ask Him to provide. Do these responses mean that we prayed effectively? Is prayer effective because we prayed so many times with so much emotion? Is prayer effective because we had a group of at least two to three praying in agreement? Is this what makes prayer effective?

What is effective prayer?

I’d like to answer this question differently. I am coming to see prayer as “effective” not based upon the answer or in obtaining the result of prayer but upon the one who prayed having intimately connected with God’s heart. Effective prayer is the prayer that by faith approaches God to dialogue with Him, to listen and to speak. In other words, effective prayer is not about obtaining or causing something to happen. Effective prayer is, at its heart, loving God and enjoying His love as one listens to His thoughts and heart about the situation at hand and responding back to Him.

Richard Foster says in Streams of Living Water (1998) that the prayer life is “the steady gaze of the soul upon the God who loves us” (p. 49). Why is this important? The goal will determine how we pray. The goal reveals how we view our relationship with God. It reveals to us what we ultimately believe about God. If my goal is to gaze upon God in love then I will pray in greater trust, consistency, and in joy. He already knows what I am going to ask (Matt 6:8). He already knows what is best and he will accomplish all that is on His heart (Jn 5:17). He invites me into prayer to share His heart, to be drawn into His thought processes, and to embrace the glory of His reign. I can steadily approach the throne of grace in all my times of need (Heb 4:16) and for those around me not simply to procure a desired result but to enjoy God in the praying even as He answers my prayers. 

If my goal is to get results, then I open the door for frustration, I might struggle with faith, and I might turn God into a “genie-in-a-bottle.” Results-oriented prayer life can be revealed, at times, in the statements, “I need to pray more. I need to pray harder. I need to believe more. I need to get more people to pray with me.” While Jesus told a parable to teach the disciples to persevere in prayer for a desired result, namely for justice (Lk 18:1-8), He centers upon the goodness of God, His approachability, and His timeliness in caring for His people. Jesus ends the parable by asking about faith. The faith aspect of perseverance moves from “faith to acquire a result” to faith that draws the believer to embrace the active, full and joyful presence of God the Father. 

Spending time daring into His Presence to listen and respond does not exclude the urgent prayers, or the “one-off” prayers, or any other kind of praying. God listens to all those prayers and He wants His children to tell Him everything that concerns them (1 Pet 5:7). The life of prayer includes the long drawn out moments of listening and responding as we join Jesus in His ministry of intercession. It also includes stop-and-go prayers and everything in between. However, I firmly believe that a vibrant prayer life flows from the time spent in loving gaze upon God who loves us. The hallmark of our prayer life is learning to enter into the Presence of our good and holy Father by the mediation of the Son and the enabling of the Holy Spirit. It is cultivating a walk with God in such that at any given moment the eyes of our heart can look up and see the face of God looking back at us in love. It is in this that prayer becomes effective for it begins to consume and transform us. This should be our goal in prayer.

Practical steps:

  1. Carve out time each day to think deeply, earnestly, hungrily upon the love of God as revealed in the Scriptures. As your hunger grows for savoring the love of God, increase your time spent dwelling upon His love.
    1. Jeremiah 31:3
    2. Romans 5:5, 8
    3. John 3:16
    4. 1 John 4:10
  2. As you continue to experience the love of God through thinking deeply upon His Word, ask God to let you listen in on Jesus’ intercession. This might seem weird, but you are a special guest/adopted child seated with Jesus in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). Jesus is always praying (Heb 7:25). Therefore, in recognizing whose you are, and where you are, and because of the great love with which God has loved you, ask Him to let you listen to His heart. Ask Him to let you hear how and for whom so that you might join Him in Spirit and in truth. Be quiet and listen. It might take a while if you are not used to listening. But the time spent knowing His love and His Presence will sustain you as you wait for God to help your ears to hear (Matt 11:15, Jn 10:27).
  3. As you spend time gazing upon God who loves you, and as you listen to His voice as He intercedes, when He invites you to join Him, begin praying what you have heard from Him. You will know when He invites you to join Him because you heart begins to cry out “Yes!” and your mouth wants to verbalize your agreement with God’s heart.

Extra thoughts:

  1. What you pray is between you and God. Discernment’s first duty is prayer. When you see and hear with your heart, your first duty is to speak with God. I caution you to be extremely slow to share that with others. If God wants you to share how you are praying with others, He will make it clear to you. Until then, keep your focus on God in loving gaze.
  2. Learning to gaze upon God in love and to listen in to His heart will open you to spiritual warfare. Read Ephesians 6:10-18 and put on the full armor of God. Take your stand by keeping your gaze upon God. Take your stand by making each thought bow before the throne and Scripture (2 Cor 10:5). If you think a thought or feel an emotion, even a good thought or good emotion, place it under submission to God. Ask God to fill your heart and mind as you desire to spend time enjoying His Presence and love. 
  3. Learn the difference between conviction and condemnation. Conviction from the Holy Spirit will reveal the vileness of sin in light of the holiness of God and will lead you to want to rid yourself of sin so that you might enjoy more of God’s holiness. Condemnation comes from Satan who bases sin on identity in order to disqualify you before God and to fill you with shame that leads you to want to turn your eyes away from the loving gaze of God.
  4. Lastly, though there are other tips, humility and reconciliation/redemption are signs of having heard from God. When we hear from God we are humbled by His Presence and voice (1 Kings 19:12-13). Hearing from God reminds us of our dependance upon Him and awakens a holy “smallness” in His people that embraces grace and mercy. As we hear from God, we learn that His heart is for reconciliation and redemption (2 Cor 5:20). I won’t say that one will never hear a thought of judgment or wrath, but as Jesus invites us into His ministry, what we hear from God will be geared towards reconciliation and redemption. Jesus’ ministry is to seek and save the lost. Hearing His heart, our hearts will join in that as well. Enjoying His love causes us to long for others to enjoy His love as well.